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Louisville's Daniel Keller (20) with Louisville's Jack Gayton (5) react after their team's goal and Keller's assist over Syracuse during the Men's Soccer Semifinal at WakeMed Soccer Park on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014, in Cary, N.C. #ACCMSoccer (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)
CARY, N.C. – Louisville proved to be a nemesis for top-ranked Syracuse again.
Ricardo Velazco assisted on a first-half goal and scored one of his own in the second half as the Cardinals turned back the Orange by a 2-1 score in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference Men’s Soccer Championship on Friday night.
Louisville (10-6-3) will face fourth-seeded Clemson (10-6-3) for the championship on Sunday at 2 p.m. at WakeMed Soccer Park. The game will be televised nationally by ESPNU. The Cardinals, who joined the ACC this past July 1, will seek to bring home the title in their first season as a league member.
“We are just so excited to be in our first ACC tournament and in our first season in the ACC,” Louisville coach Ken Lolla said. “It’s been a tremendous growth experience for us to play such levels of competition – like Syracuse tonight – and we feel because of that we continue to get better.”
Louisville, seeded sixth in the ACC Championship field but ranked 19th nationally, has handed the Orange (15-3-1) two of their three losses. The Cardinals, who won 2-1 in overtime when the teams met at Louisville on Oct. 17, have scored four of the nine goals allowed by Syracuse this season. The Cardinals are the only team to score more than one goal in a match against the Orange this year.
“I think we just play our style and try to find the back of the net every time we play,” Velazco said. “It’s the same if we play Syracuse or Notre Dame or whoever it is, we have the same goal and the same mentality.”
Louisville struck at the 41:46 mark of the opening half when Velazco’s cross into the box was punched in by Will Vitalis for his second goal of the year. The score gave Louisville a 1-0 edge at the end of a first half in which the teams combined for just six shots (four on goal).
Velazco scored the Cardinals’ second goal with just under 26 minutes remaining in the match, taking passes from ACC Freshman of the Year Tim Kubel and senior Daniel Keller off a free kick to head in his seventh goal of the season from close range.
“It was a tough time to concede a goal,” Syracuse coach Ian McIntyre said. “I thought we were on top of the game during the first half and we were enjoying a good passage of play, and then to concede a goal late … The start of the second half was a little bit flat. We were looking for a little bit more quality and a little bit more energy. The second (Louisville) goal probably gave us the kick up the rear that we needed. But it is a big ask to come back from a second goal.”
Syracuse, seeded second in the tournament field and ranked No. 1 in the nation, broke through with just over 13 minutes left in the match. Sophomore Alex Halis scored his third goal of the season off a pass from Liam Callahan to keep the Orange’s hopes alive.
But that was the extent of the scoring. The Orange, assured of an NCAA berth by virtue of their stellar season, will await Monday’s tournament pairings with hopes of a high national seed. McInytre, however, is maintaining a sense of perspective.
“That’s above my pay grade,” he said when asked about possible seeding. “All I can talk about is that I think we have had a great season. We have played against some quality opponents and we have won 15 games. At the beginning of the season, our goals were to make the ACC Tournament – something that we didn’t do last year – and make the national tournament for the second time in program history. Now we are having conversations of hopefully getting a seed and getting a home game.”
Sunday’s ACC Championship final will be a rematch of the Oct. 24 regular-season between Louisville and Clemson, which ended in a 0-0 draw.